Replacing the vibrant & exaggerated colour tones with a bleak & muted palette, the lush & elaborate sets with plain & shrivelled architectures, the terrifying & nightmarish soundtrack with a funereal & hypnotising music, the fast & fluid pace with that of a slow-burner, and the simple & straightforward premise with an unnecessarily drawn out plot that piles on one needless subplot on top of another, Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria discards nearly everything that made the original stand out from the norm, and is a dull, dismal & divisive re-imagination that’s exhausting, frustrating & one hell of a slog to sit through.
Set in 1977 West Berlin during the German Autumn, the story of Suspiria follows a young American ballerina who arrives there to enrol at a prestigious dance academy that, unbeknownst to the outside world, harbours a dark & sinister secret at its core. Accepted into the program, she quickly garners the attention of the head artistic teacher & choreographer, becomes her protégé, and is selected to lead their upcoming dance performance. Meanwhile, a psychotherapist conducts his own investigation into the disappearance of one of his clients who was a former student at the institution & claimed that the school’s matrons were a coven of witches.
Directed by Luca Guadagnino (best known for Call Me By Your Name), his version of the 1977 horror classic does retain the original’s title but is completely different in treatment & presentation. Though he retains the themes of the original story, the director is slightly more interested in exploring the political unrest & real-world events of the said timeline, not because the main story calls for it but because he wants to, thus resulting in an overlong film that exceeds the original’s length by a considerable margin. Add to that, everything unfolds at such a lethargic pace that it’s going to test the patience of many. Some fans are going to love this new take, others will downright detest it.
Where Dario Argento’s film never allowed the viewers to settle down and kept assaulting their senses with everything it had in its arsenal, Guadagnino’s version provides enough room for musings if you are up for it. There are two narratives that unfold side by side in this film, one follows a route that’s similar to the original while the other one concerns a grieving psychotherapist, and both storylines are given the same priority by the director. On a more positive note, the eerie mood & foreboding aura never leaves the room, some kills are downright terrifying, the earthy tones do fit its depressing mood, that Volk dance choreography is a defining highlight, Make-up is top-notch & Thom Yorke’s score just fits.
Coming to the performances, Suspiria features a finely balanced cast in Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Chloë Grace Moretz & Angela Winkler amongst others and also includes a cameo from Jessica Harper, the protagonist in the 1977 film. As expected, it is Swinton who steals the show and takes the role of not one, not two but three characters. She is endlessly fascinating as the academy’s artistic director, undeniably impressive as the old psychotherapist, and totally wicked as the coven’s leader. Johnson does her best to stand out and chips in with a strong input yet Goth manages to outshine her without much effort. Moretz is present only during the first act. And the rest of the cast play their roles responsibly.
On an overall scale, Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria appears more inclined towards arthouse cinema enthusiasts, and is a film that’s meant to polarise its audience. There are going to be many who will admire & appreciate the filmmaker’s decision to do more than just a rehash. But there will also be several detractors who may argue that Guadagnino’s reach far exceeds his grasp here, and he ends up biting more than he can chew. The film is an abstract iteration that attempts to tackle themes & elements that were not required per se. Whether its inclusion enhances the overall story or is detrimental to the viewing experience is where most disagreements will occur. For me, this new version of Suspiria is too long, too slow & too far up its own ass. In a sentence, not the remake I was looking forward to.